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This article is about the original television series. For its spin-offs, see Law & Order (franchise). For other uses, see Law and Order.

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Law & Order
The series title card.
The font, Friz Quadrata, is used in
the identifying sign of One Police Plaza,
headquarters of the NYPD.
  • Police procedural
  • Legal drama
Created byDick Wolf
  • George Dzundza
  • Chris Noth
  • Dann Florek
  • Michael Moriarty
  • Richard Brooks
  • Steven Hill
  • Paul Sorvino
  • Carolyn McCormick
  • Jerry Orbach
  • S. Epatha Merkerson
  • Jill Hennessy
  • Sam Waterston
  • Benjamin Bratt
  • Carey Lowell
  • Angie Harmon
  • Jesse L. Martin
  • Dianne Wiest
  • Elisabeth Röhm
  • Fred Dalton Thompson
  • Dennis Farina
  • Annie Parisse
  • Michael Imperioli
  • Milena Govich
  • Alana de la Garza
  • Jeremy Sisto
  • Linus Roache
  • Anthony Anderson
Theme music composerMike Post
Opening themeTheme of Law & Order
Country of originUnited States
Original languageEnglish
No. of seasons20
No. of episodes456 (list of episodes)
  • Dick Wolf
  • Joseph Stern
Production locationsNew York City, New York
Running time40–48 minutes
Production companies
  • Wolf Films
  • Universal Television (1990–98, 2002–04)
  • Studios USA (1998–2002)
  • NBC Universal Television Studio (2004–07)
  • Universal Media Studios (2007–10)
Original networkNBC
Picture format
  • 480i (SDTV)
  • 1080i (HDTV)
Original releaseSeptember 13, 1990 (1990-09-13) –
May 24, 2010 (2010-05-24)
Law & Order franchise

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Law & Order is an American police procedural and legal drama television series, created by Dick Wolf and part of the Law & Order franchise. It originally aired on NBC and, in syndication, on various cable networks. Law & Order premiered on September 13, 1990, and completed its 20th and final season on May 24, 2010. At the time of its cancellation, Law & Order was the longest-running crime drama on American primetime television. Its record of 20 seasons is a tie with Gunsmoke (1955–1975) for the longest-running live-action scripted American prime-time series with ongoing characters. Although it has fewer episodes than Gunsmoke, Law & Order ranks as the longest-running hour-long primetime TV series. Gunsmoke, for its first six seasons, was originally a half-hour program.

Set and filmed in New York City, the series follows a two-part approach: the first half-hour is the investigation of a crime (usually murder) and apprehension of a suspect by New York City Police Department detectives; the second half is the prosecution of the defendant by the Manhattan District Attorney's Office. Plots are often based on real cases that recently made headlines, although the motivation for the crime and the perpetrator may be different.

The show has been noted for its revolving cast over the years. Among the longest-running main cast members were Steven Hill as District Attorney Adam Schiff (seasons 1–10), Jerry Orbach as Detective Lennie Briscoe (seasons 3–14), S. Epatha Merkerson as Lieutenant Anita Van Buren (seasons 4–20), Sam Waterston as Executive Assistant District Attorney Jack McCoy (seasons 5–20; later District Attorney) and Jesse L. Martin as Detective Ed Green (seasons 10–18).

The success of the series has led to the creation of additional shows, making Law & Order a franchise, with also a television film, several video games, and international adaptations of the series. It has won and has been nominated for numerous awards over the years, including a number of Emmy Awards. On May 14, 2010, NBC announced that it had canceled Law & Order and would air the final episode on May 24, 2010.[1][2][3][4] Immediately following the show's cancellation, Wolf stated that he was attempting to find a new home for the series and would also consider a "last resort" plan to conclude the show with a two-hour TV film to air on NBC.[5] In July 2010, however, he indicated that those attempts had failed and declared that the series had now "moved to the history books".[6]

However, in February 2015, rumors started that NBC was planning to bring the series back for 10 episodes.[7] In May 2015, former star Sam Waterston (EADA/DA Jack McCoy) announced to The Hollywood Reporter that he supports and would join a revival of Law & Order, saying: "You're darn right. Sure, I'd love it. Got to break the record."[8] Creator Dick Wolf has expressed wanting to use a L&O revival to do a 'ripped from the headlines' story-line surrounding the murder trial of Robert Durst, Wolf said "[Of all my past projects] I'd bring back Law & Order. Everybody who knows me knows it's something I want to do," he continued, "my only regret looking backward is all the great stories that we haven't been able to do for the past five years."[9] At the 2015 Television Critics Association summer press tour, Wolf noted everyone wants a revival, "It is a question of... most of the people involved are very successful in their careers. To try to get everything in sequence is much more difficult than it looks on the outside. I am always an optimist. I would love to do it if we can make it work."[10]


History and development[]

In 1988, Dick Wolf developed a concept for a new television series that would depict a relatively optimistic picture of the American criminal justice system. He initially toyed with the idea of calling it Night & Day but then hit upon the title Law & Order. The first half of each episode would follow two detectives (a senior and a junior detective) and their commanding officer as they investigate a violent crime. The second half of the episode would follow the District Attorney's Office and the courts as two prosecutors, with advice from the District Attorney himself, attempt to convict the accused. Through this, Law & Order would be able to investigate some of the larger issues of the day by focusing on stories that were based on real cases making headlines.[11]

Wolf took the idea to then-president of Universal Television Kerry McCluggage, who pointed out the similarity to a 1963 series titled Arrest and Trial, which lasted one season. The two watched the pilot of that series, in which a police officer (Ben Gazzara) arrested a man for armed robbery in the first half, and the defense attorney, played by Chuck Connors gets the perpetrator off as the wrong guy in the second half; this was the formula of the show every week. Wolf decided that, while his detectives would occasionally also be fallible, he wanted a fresh approach to the genre, to go from police procedural to prosecution with a greater degree of realism. In addition, the prosecution would be the hero, a reversal of the usual formula in lawyer dramas.[12]

Initially, Fox ordered thirteen episodes based on the concept alone, with no pilot. Then-network head Barry Diller reversed the decision. Although he loved the idea, he didn't believe it was a "Fox show". Wolf then went to CBS, which ordered a pilot, "Everybody's Favorite Bagman", written by Wolf about corrupt city officials involved with the mob. The network liked the pilot but did not order it because there were no breakout stars. In the summer of 1989, NBC's top executives, Brandon Tartikoff and Warren Littlefield, screened the pilot and liked it; but they were concerned the intensity of the series could not be repeated week after week.[12] However, by 1990, NBC executives had enough confidence that the innovative show could appeal to a wide audience that they ordered the series for a full season.[13]


The series was shot on location in New York City and is known for its extensive use of local color.[14][15] In later seasons, New York City mayors Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg, attorney William Kunstler and Bronx Congressman José Serrano all appeared on the show as themselves. Local personalities also had recurring cameos as fictional characters, such as Donna Hanover and Fran Lebowitz as judges. On September 14, 2004, in New York City, a road leading to Pier 62 at Chelsea Piers (where the series was mostly shot) was renamed "Law & Order Way" in tribute to the series.[16]

Music and sound effects[]

Audio samples of Law & Order  (media help)

The music for Law & Order was composed by veteran composer Mike Post, and was deliberately designed to be minimal to match the abbreviated style of the series.[17] Post wrote the theme song using electric piano, guitar, and clarinet.[18] In addition, scene changes were accompanied by a tone generated by Post. He refers to the tone as "The Clang," while Entertainment Weekly critic Ken Tucker has referred to the sound as the "ominous chung CHUNG",[17] actor Dann Florek (in a promo) as the "doink doink",[19] and Richard Belzer as "the Dick Wolf Cash Register Sound."[20] The tone moves the viewer from scene to scene, jumping forward in time with all the importance and immediacy of a judge's gavel – which is exactly what Post was aiming for when he created it. "The Clang" is an amalgamation of nearly a dozen sounds, including an actual gavel, a jail door slamming, and five hundred Japanese monks walking across a hardwood floor.[17][21][22][23] The sound has become so associated with the Law & Order brand that it was also carried over to other series of the franchise.[22]

The UK-aired Channel Five versions of seasons 7-16 of Law & Order[24] and Seasons 1-9 of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit[25] feature the song "I'm Not Driving Anymore" by Rob Dougan in the opening credits with "Urban Warfare" by Paul Dinletir being used for Seasons 10-11 after that Seasons 16-20 of Law & Order and Seasons 12+ of SVU used the US theme. Another Rob Dougan track, "There's Only Me", was used as the theme for seasons 1-6 of Law & Order: Criminal Intent,[26] with Urban Warfare again being used for Seasons 7-8 and the US theme being used for Seasons 9-10.

Casting and characters[]

Main article: List of Law & Order characters
See also: List of Law & Order cast members

List of Law & Order characters

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Cast of Law & Order
Season 1 (1990-91), from left: George Dzundza, Michael Moriarty, Chris Noth and Richard Brooks
Season 2 (1991–92), from left: Paul Sorvino, Moriarty, Noth and Brooks (This was also initially the cast of Season 3, until Sorvino left mid-way through the season and was replaced by Jerry Orbach)
Season 6 (1995-96), from left: Benjamin Bratt, Sam Waterston, Jerry Orbach and Jill Hennessy (This was the first cast line-up to not feature any of the originals, aside from Steven Hill)
Seasons 7-8 (1996-98), from left: Bratt, Orbach, Waterston and Carey Lowell (This was the first cast line-up to last more than one complete season)
Seasons 19-20 (2008-10), from left: Anthony Anderson, Alana de la Garza, Linus Roache and Jeremy Sisto (This was also the cast at the end of Season 18, after Anderson replaced Jesse L. Martin)

For the 1988 pilot, George Dzundza and Chris Noth were cast as the original detectives, Sergeant Max Greevey and Detective Mike Logan.[27] The producers felt that Dzundza would be a perfect senior police officer as he was someone the producers felt they could see themselves riding along with in a police cruiser.[28] Noth and Michael Madsen were candidates for the role of Logan. Madsen initially was considered the perfect choice for the role, but, in a final reading, it was felt that Madsen's acting mannerisms were repetitive, and Noth received the role instead.[29] Rounding out the police cast, Dann Florek was cast as Captain Donald Cragen.[27]

On the prosecutor's side, Michael Moriarty was Dick Wolf's choice to play Executive Assistant District Attorney Benjamin "Ben" Stone. The network, however, preferred James Naughton, but, in the end, Wolf's choice would prevail, and Moriarty received the role.[27] As his ADA, Richard Brooks and Eriq La Salle were being considered for the role of Paul Robinette. The network favored La Salle but, once again, the producers' choice prevailed, and Brooks received the role.[30] As their boss, Roy Thinnes was cast as District Attorney Alfred Wentworth.[27]

Nearly two years passed between the pilot and production of the series. The producers held options on Dzundza, Noth, Moriarty and Brooks. Each was paid holding money for the additional year and brought back. Florek also returned. Thinnes, however, was starring in Dark Shadows and declined to return. In his place, the producers tapped Steven Hill to play District Attorney Adam Schiff,[30] a character loosely based on real-life New York County District Attorney Robert Morgenthau. Hill brought prestige and experience to the show and, as such, the producers allowed Hill to give insight on the direction he thought the character should go.[31]

Dzundza was disappointed when he realized that the show would be more of an ensemble show rather than a show starring him. Though the cast liked his performance, they increasingly felt uncomfortable around Dzundza, who was also under stress due to the constant commute between New York City and his home in Los Angeles. Dzundza quit after only one season on the show, and Sergeant Greevey was written off as being killed in the line of duty.[32] He was replaced by Paul Sorvino as Sergeant Phil Cerreta, who was considered more even tempered than either Max Greevey or Mike Logan. Sorvino was initially excited about the role, but would leave midway through the next season, citing the exhausting schedule demanded by the filming of the show, a need to broaden his horizons, and the desire to preserve his vocal cords for singing opera as reasons for leaving the show. Sergeant Cerreta was written off as having been shot in the line of duty and transferring to a desk job at another precinct.[33] To replace Sorvino on the series, Wolf cast Jerry Orbach (who had previously guest starred as a defense attorney in the Season 2 episode "The Wages of Love") in the role of Detective Leonard W. "Lennie" Briscoe.[34] Orbach's characterization of the world-weary, wisecracking Detective Briscoe was based on a similar NYPD character he portrayed in the 1981 film Prince Of The City, which Wolf had personally requested Orbach to replicate for the show.[35]

Introduced on a recurring basis during Season 2 was Carolyn McCormick as Dr. Elizabeth Olivet, a police psychologist brought in on a case-by-case basis. NBC had been pushing for the producers to add female characters to the all male cast.[36] She was added to the opening credits as "also starring" in Season 3 and 4[37] but, despite the attempts of the producers to include her in as many episodes as possible, it was found to be difficult to incorporate her into the show due to the format leaning heavily on the police and prosecutors.[36] She was removed from the credits in Season 5.[37] McCormick stayed with the show on a recurring basis, but believed that the character had become less profound and complex, and that her role had been reduced mostly to "psychobabble." She left to star on Cracker after Season 7.[38] After the cancellation of Cracker, she returned beginning in Season 13 and appeared occasionally until Season 20.[39]

By the end of Season 3, NBC executives still felt the show did not have enough female characters. On the orders of then-network president Warren Littlefield, new female characters had to be added to the cast or the show would face possible cancellation on its relegated Friday night time slot. Wolf realized that, since there were only six characters on the show, someone had to be dismissed. He chose to dismiss Florek and Brooks from the regular roster, and later said it was the hardest two phone calls he had ever made. Though producers initially claimed the firings, especially that of Brooks, who was said not to get along with Moriarty, were for other reasons, Wolf confirmed that the firings were on the orders of Littlefield.[40] To replace Florek, S. Epatha Merkerson was cast as new squad leader Lieutenant Anita Van Buren. (Merkerson had previously guest starred as a mother of a gunshot victim in the Season 1 episode "Mushrooms.")[41] To replace Brooks, Jill Hennessy was cast as Assistant District Attorney Claire Kincaid. Though no initial explanation was given on the show for the departures of Florek's or Brooks's characters, they would both later return in guest appearances, with Captain Cragen having been reassigned to the Internal Affairs Bureau and ADA Robinette having become a defense attorney. Florek also returned to direct a few episodes, and his character was eventually added to the cast of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.[42]

Meanwhile, Moriarty's behavior both on and off the set became problematic for Wolf. After a public statement in which Moriarty called Attorney General Janet Reno a "psychopathic Nazi" for her efforts to censor television violence, Moriarty engaged in a verbal confrontation with Reno at a dinner in Washington, D.C. Wolf asked Moriarty to tone down his comments, and Moriarty responded by quitting the show the next week. The final storyline for Ben Stone involved him resigning over guilt after a woman he compelled to testify against a Russian mobster was murdered by his cohorts. To replace Moriarty, Sam Waterston was Wolf's first choice for the role of Executive Assistant District Attorney John J. "Jack" McCoy Jr.; Waterston's character was markedly different from Moriarty's in that Jack McCoy was conceived as more emotionally stable and having more sex appeal.[43]

Wolf dismissed Noth when his contract expired at the end of Season 5, because he felt that Lennie Briscoe and Mike Logan had become too similar to each other and the writers were having difficulty in writing their dialogue together. Furthermore, Noth had been disgruntled with the show since the dismissals of Florek and Brooks, and remained embittered against Wolf, whom he felt was not a friend to his actors. The final story line for Detective Logan involved him being banished to work on Staten Island in a domestic violence crimes unit as punishment for punching a city council member who had orchestrated the murder of a gay colleague and had managed to get acquitted of the charges. (The made-for-television film Exiled: A "Law & Order" Movie, in which Noth starred, centered around Logan attempting to get back into the department's good graces.) Noth was replaced by Benjamin Bratt as Detective Reynaldo "Rey" Curtis, who was hired in an attempt to find an actor even sexier than Noth to join the cast.[44]

Hennessy chose not to renew her three-year contract at the end of Season 6 to pursue other projects, and Claire Kincaid was written off as being killed in a drunk driving accident.[45] She was replaced by Carey Lowell as Assistant District Attorney Jamie Ross. Lowell remained with the show until the end of Season 8, when she left to spend more time with her daughter. (Jamie Ross was written off as leaving the D.A.'s office for similar reasons.)[46] Lowell (who later returned for a couple guest appearances) was replaced by Angie Harmon as Assistant District Attorney Abigail "Abbie" Carmichael, who was conceived as being much louder and outspoken than any of her predecessors. Harmon auditioned with 85 other women, including Vanessa Williams, for the role, and was picked after Wolf heard her Texas accent.[47]

Bratt left the series at the end of Season 9, stating it was an amicable departure and he expected to eventually return for guest appearances. (He ultimately returned for the Season 20 episode "Fed.") Detective Curtis was written off as leaving the force in order to take care of his wife, who was suffering from multiple sclerosis, in her final days.[48] He was replaced by Jesse L. Martin as Detective Ed Green, who was conceived of as more of a loose cannon in the mold of Mike Logan than Rey Curtis was.[49] (Briscoe was described as being a recovering alcoholic, as Cragen had been; Green was described as being a recovering compulsive gambler.) In 2000, Hill announced he was leaving the series after Season 10. Hill, who was the last remaining member of the original cast, said his departure was mutual with the producers. He was replaced by Dianne Wiest as Interim District Attorney Nora Lewin, and Adam Schiff was written out off-screen as departing to work with Jewish charities and human-rights organizations in Europe.[50]

The following year, Harmon left the show after three seasons (with Abbie Carmichael written off as being called on to serve the U.S. Attorney's office) and was replaced by Elisabeth Röhm as Assistant District Attorney Serena Southerlyn.[51] The year after that, Wiest left the show after two seasons and was replaced by retiring U.S. Senator Fred Thompson as District Attorney Arthur Branch, whose character was conceived of as being much more right-leaning than his predecessors in the DA's office, and was a direct reaction to the September 11 attacks.[52] No mention was made on the show of what happened to Nora Lewin, though producers said her character was only supposed to be an interim DA.

After 12 years on Law & Order, Orbach announced in March 2004 that he was leaving the show at the end of Season 14 for the spin-off Law & Order: Trial by Jury. Lennie Briscoe was written off as retiring from the NYPD and later taking a position as an investigator for the DA's office. He was replaced at the 27th Precinct by Detective Joe Fontana, played by Dennis Farina.[53] At the time, Orbach would not state the reason for his departure,[53] but it was eventually revealed that he had been battling prostate cancer (for over 10 years) and that his role on Trial by Jury was designed to be less taxing on him than his role on the original series was. However, Orbach died from his cancer on December 28, 2004 and was featured in only the first two episodes of Trial by Jury. (His character was subsequently written off as having also died off-screen, though this was not revealed on the original series until the Season 18 episode "Burn Card.")[54]

Season 15 would see the departure of Röhm mid-season. Röhm's final scene on the show, in the episode "Ain't No Love," sparked controversy within the fanbase, as ADA Southerlyn asked Arthur Branch if she was being fired because she was gay, a fact the scripts had never even hinted at until then.[55] Wolf said Röhm's departure was unexpected, and she exited the show in January 2005. Her replacement was Annie Parisse as Assistant District Attorney Alexandra Borgia. Later that season, Martin departed early to film Rent. Ed Green was temporarily written off as being shot in the line of duty and being replaced during his recovery by Detective Nick Falco, played by Michael Imperioli, who had previously guest starred as a murder suspect in the Season 6 episode "Atonement."[56] Parisse left the series at the end of Season 16 (with ADA Borgia written off as being murdered), and Farina announced shortly afterward that he too was leaving Law & Order to pursue other projects. (Detective Fontana was written off as having retired off-screen.)[57]

By this point, NBC executives believed the series was beginning to show its age, as the ratings had been declining since Orbach's departure.[58] Farina had never been popular with fans when he replaced Orbach, and it was felt that the cast just did not seem to mesh well together anymore.[55] In an effort to revitalize the show, Wolf replaced Parisse with Alana de la Garza as Assistant District Attorney Consuela "Connie" Rubirosa, while Martin's character was promoted to senior detective and partnered with Detective Nina Cassady, played by Milena Govich, who had worked with Wolf on the short-lived series Conviction and served as the show's first female detective of the main cast.[58]

However, Govich proved to be even more unpopular with fans than her predecessor was, and she left the show after one season, with the explanation being that Detective Cassady's assignment to the precinct had been temporary and had been transferred out. She was replaced by Jeremy Sisto, who had previously guest starred as a defense attorney in the Season 17 episode "The Family Hour," as Detective Cyrus Lupo.[59] Around the same time, Thompson announced he would leave the show to seek the 2008 Republican presidential nomination. (No explanation was given within the show regarding Arthur Branch's off-screen departure.) Waterston's character was promoted to Interim District Attorney (later made full District Attorney in Season 20) and his former position was filled in by Executive Assistant District Attorney Michael Cutter, played by Linus Roache.[60][61]

Martin later announced that he would leave the show for the second and last time near the end of Season 18 to pursue other endeavors, and Detective Green was written off as resigning from the force due to burnout. He was replaced by Anthony Anderson as Detective Kevin Bernard.[55] In 2010, Merkerson announced that she would leave the show at the end of Season 20, with Lieutenant Van Buren given a season-long story arc involving her battling cervical cancer.[62] However, the cancellation of the show rendered this moot.


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In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups: the police who investigate crime, and the district attorneys who prosecute the offenders. These are their stories.

Template:Nb10—Opening narration, spoken by Steven Zirnkilton.[63][64]

Law & Order episodes are typically segmented into two parts, roughly at the halfway point; the first part follows police and detective work, and the second follows the legal and courtroom proceedings of the case. The show dwells little on the characters' back-stories or social lives, focusing mainly on their lives at work.

The police portion[]

For most of Law & Order's run, the cold open or lead-in of the show began with the discovery of a crime, usually a murder. The scene typically began with a slice of everyday life in New York City. Some civilians would then discover the crime victim, or sometimes the crime would occur in a public place and they would be a witnesses or a victim of a crime. The only exception to this are in the early seasons, mostly Seasons 1 & 2, the crime would usually be discovered by a pair of patrol officers or beat cops or in later seasons when the cold open was replaced with rapid cuts of the victim's final moments, similar to Law & Order: Criminal Intent.

The police are represented in the show by the New York City Police Department 27th Precinct homicide department (in the show it is common that the detectives also investigate other cases, like kidnappings and rape, but in the real world these cases are handled by other units and divisions), with two homicide detectives, a senior detective (usually a veteran cop) and a junior detective (usually a young but capable detective), who report directly to their boss at their precinct either a Lieutenant or a Captain depending on rank of the Precinct Commander. During the preliminary crime scene examination, the featured detectives make their first observations and will come up with theories followed by a witticism or two, before the title sequence begins.

The detectives often have few or no good clues—they might not even know the victim's identity—and must usually chase several dead ends before finding a likely suspect(s).

They start their investigations at the crime scene by talking to any witnesses at the scene whilst the Crime Scene Unit (CSU) forensic technicians start processing the scene by collecting the necessary evidence. The CSU personnel have many tools at their disposal including the materials needed to develop fingerprints, cast footwear and tire impressions, follow the trajectory of bullets fired through windows and the chemicals necessary to observe blood under special lighting conditions that would otherwise be invisible to the naked eye, all of which might provide clues to help the police later. The Medical examiner (M.E.)'s office will also be shown to collect the body from the crime scene.

Later the medical examiner will perform an autopsy on the victim, offering more clues to the victim's cause and time of death (sometimes obtaining the victim's identity from dental records or fingerprints) which the detectives will read about in the M.E.'s autopsy report and by talking to the M.E. who performed it. When the detectives know the victim's identity they will inform their relatives or loved ones of their death and attempt to get more information on the victim's life and possible suspects.

The detectives continue their investigation by interviewing witnesses and possible suspects, all the while tracing the victim's last known movements and victim's state of mind (by talking to the victim's family, friends and co-workers). Sometimes they will have someone they suspect of the crime and will trace their last known movements and state of mind by talking to the people in the suspect's life, until they are either ruled out or dead certain of their guilt. They also visit the crime laboratory to submit and view evidence (e.g. fingerprints, DNA and ballistics, etc.), they may also look into any background information such as financial details and criminal history on both the victim and lead suspect. In some instances, psychologists and/or psychiatrists are called in for insight into the criminal's behaviour or modus operandi. All the while, the detectives report to their commanding officer, keeping them informed and being advised on how best to proceed next.

When the detectives are certain they have the right suspect(s), the police will take the case to their boss, who decides if there is enough for a search and/or arrest warrants (though sometimes the commanding officer will consult with the New York City District Attorney's office to see if the case is strong enough) and whether or not any back-up (such as uniformed officers or armed tactical team) is needed. The detectives will then arrest the suspects(s), with sometimes the police having to chase the accused through the streets of New York. The scene then shifts to the interrogation room where the detectives interrogate the suspect(s), until they ask for a lawyer, their defense attorney shows up and asks the suspect not to talk anymore or the Assistant District Attorney from the D.A.'s office decides they have enough to press charges.

The trial portion[]

Towards the middle of a show, the police will begin to work with the prosecutors to make the arrest, though sometimes the Assistant District Attorney will appear earlier to arrange a plea-for-information deal or to decide if the detectives have enough evidence for search warrant(s) and/or arrest warrant(s) before arresting the suspect or suspects. An arraignment court scene will follow, in which the defendant(s) plead (usually not guilty) and bail conditions are set.

The matter is then taken over by a pair of representatives from the New York County District Attorney's Office, an Executive District Attorney and an Assistant District Attorney. They discuss deals, prepare the witnesses and evidence, and conduct the People's case in the trial. The District Attorneys work together and with the Medical Examiner's office, the crime laboratory (including fingerprint analysts, DNA profilers and ballistics analysts), and psychologists and/or psychiatrists (if the defendant uses an insanity plea), all of whom may be needed to testify in court for the prosecution. The police may also reappear to testify in court or to arrest another suspect, but most investigation in the second segment is done by the D.A.'s office, in consultation with the District Attorney for advice on the case, as the D.A., being an elected official, sometimes brings political considerations to bear concerning decisions to prosecute various alleged offenders. If the case is very weak then the police would re-investigate.

Unlike many other legal dramas (e.g. The Defenders, Matlock, Perry Mason and L.A. Law), the court proceedings are shown from the prosecution's point of view, with the regular characters trying to prove the defendant's guilt, not innocence. After the arraignment of defendants the D.A.s proceed to trial preparation, including legal research and plea negotiations. Some episodes include legal proceedings beyond the testimony of witnesses, including motion hearings, (often concerning admissibility of evidence); jury selection; and allocutions, usually as a result of plea bargains. Many episodes employ motions to suppress evidence as a plot device, and most of these end with evidence or statements being suppressed, often on a technicality. This usually begins with the service of the motion to the D.A. team, follows with argument and case citations of precedent before a judge in court, and concludes with visual reaction of the winning or losing attorney.

Many episodes use outlandish defense scenarios such as Diminished responsibility (e.g. "Genetics"/"Television"/"God"/"the devil made me do it" and intoxication defence) and temporary insanity (e.g. "Black Rage"/"White Rage"/"Sports Rage"). Some episodes revolve around moral and ethical debates including the right to die (euthanasia), the right to life (abortion), and the right to bear arms (gun control). Episodes usually ends with the verdict being read by the jury foreperson and a shot of both the winning and losing parties. The scene then shifts to the District Attorney's office, where the team is leaving the office to go home while contemplating either the true guilt of the accused, the defense scenarios that were used, or the moral or ethical issue that was central to the episode.

"Ripped from the headlines"[]

Often the plot of an initial portion of an episode resembles a recognizable aspect of an actual case.[65] In early seasons, the details of these cases often closely followed the real stories, such as the season one episode "Subterranean Homeboy Blues," which had a woman shooting two attempted muggers, paralleling the Bernhard Goetz case. Another early episode, "Out of the Half-Light," focused on a racially charged rape case that mimicked the Tawana Brawley case. This "ripped from the headlines" style is reflected in the opening credits sequence that evolves from newspaper halftones to high-resolution photos. Another first season episode, "Poison Ivy," would be based on the Edmund Perry case where an NYPD officer fatally shot a returning black honor student who was committing a crime in front of the officer upon returning to the city after recently graduating from an Ivy League prep school. Later seasons would take real-life cases as inspiration but diverge more from the facts. Often this would be done by increasing the severity of the crime in question, usually by adding a murder. As a result, the plot would tend to veer significantly from the actual events that may have inspired the episode.[65] Promotional advertisements of episodes with close real-life case parallels regularly use the "ripped from the headlines" phrase, although a textual disclaimer, within the actual episode, emphasizes that the story and characters are fictional. This format lends itself to exploring different outcomes or motives that similar events could have had under other circumstances.

Some real-life crime victims have felt used and exploited,[65] with one lawyer, Ravi Batra, going so far as to sue the show in 2004 for libel.[66]


Main article: List of Law & Order episodes

Law & Order premiered September 13, 1990, and aired on NBC, with 456 episodes having been produced.

Broadcast history[]

The show premiered September 13, 1990, and ended on May 24, 2010. 456 episodes were aired and produced. The show ran for twenty seasons on NBC. It was NBC's longest running crime drama, and tied for longest running primetime scripted drama with Gunsmoke. The first two seasons were broadcast Tuesdays at 10 p.m. From season 3 through 16 the show aired Wednesday at 10 p.m. For season 17 it moved to Fridays at 10 p.m. For seasons 18 and 19 the show shifted back to Wednesdays at 10 p.m. For season 20 the show was broadcast Fridays at 8 p.m., while in the spring it moved to Mondays at 10 p.m., where it broadcast its series finale on May 24, 2010.


Repeats of Law & Order were first broadcast weekdays on A&E beginning in the mid 1990s and are credited with drawing a new audience to the current weekly NBC episodes. As of January 1, 2014, the series is being telecast on SundanceTV, TNT, WE tv, and WGN America.


On May 13, 2010, reports surfaced of the possibility that Law & Order could be canceled after 20 seasons on the air, preventing it from unseating Gunsmoke as longest running American primetime drama unless another network picked it up.[67] By May 14, 2010, The New York Times, Daily Variety and the Los Angeles Times reported official cancellation of the series.[68] Continuation of characters on spin-off series—including Law & Order: Los Angeles—has been mentioned as a possible means of providing closure beyond the series finale.[68]

On May 14, 2010, NBC officially canceled the show, opting instead to pick up Law & Order: Los Angeles for a first season, and renewed Law & Order: Special Victims Unit for a twelfth.[1] The cancellation was announced after last-minute talks between NBC and Dick Wolf to extend the series failed to lead to an agreement.

The chairman of NBC Universal Television Entertainment, Jeff Gaspin, stated: "The full measure of the collective contributions made by Dick Wolf and his Law & Order franchise over the last two decades to the success of NBC and Universal Media Studios cannot be overstated. The legacy of his original Law & Order series will continue to make an impact like no other series before."[69]

Angela Bromstad, President, Primetime Entertainment, NBC and Universal Media Studios, said, "Law & Order has been one of the most successful franchises in the history of television, which is why it is so critical that we continue this important brand and our relationship with Dick Wolf and his team with L&O: LA and Law & Order: SVU."[69]

Following the cancellation announcement, Wolf announced that he still hoped to continue the series, and stated that he was seeking "other offers" from potential outlets to air the series. Wolf also discussed the possibility of airing a two-hour TV film on NBC to conclude Law & Order, but said that such a plan had been delayed until he had exhausted every other possibility for continuing the series. Wolf did not specify whether NBC had already offered to air such a movie.[5]

Dick Wolf stated that, "The flagship series is in a medically induced coma, waiting for a life-saving medicine." Wolf was pressuring the series' producer NBC/Universal Media Studios to make a deal with TNT, which holds syndication rights to the show, for originals if an acceptable license fee could be bargained. Talks between the two started up after upfronts.[70] However, TNT said in a statement it was not interested in picking up a 21st season for the series.[71]

Executive producer René Balcer spoke to Neal Conan on Talk of the Nation on May 24, stating that "we're not dead yet" and noting that there were still ongoing negotiations with cable outlets to see if the original series could be refloated. Balcer referenced the "medically induced coma" brought up by Wolf, calling the show's cancellation "corporately-induced".[72]

Although NBC cancelled the series, AMC started talking about reviving Law & Order;[73] however, attempts to revive it failed, and according to creator Dick Wolf, the series "moved into the history books".[6][74]

Almost exactly one year later, on May 13, 2011, NBC canceled Law & Order: LA following a decline in the ratings after the show had been retooled and moved to Monday nights.[75]

In February 2015, rumors started that NBC was planning to bring Law & Order back for 10 episodes, as a limited series.[76]

Spin-offs, tie-ins, and adaptations[]

Main article: Law & Order (franchise)

The longevity and success of Law & Order has spawned four American television series (Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Law & Order: Los Angeles, and Law & Order: Trial By Jury), as well as a television film (Exiled: A Law & Order Movie), all of which use the name Law & Order. Although there were fears initially that the failure of such shows could hurt the original series, it was felt the brand name was needed because of the commercial desirability such a brand name creates.[77] To differentiate it from other series in the franchise, Law & Order is often referred to as "The Mother Ship" by producers and critics.[78]

The series (and its spin-offs) shared a universe with the series Homicide: Life on the Street, with the two sharing several crossover episodes.

The original series has also been adapted for British television as Law & Order: UK, with the setting changed to London. Similarly, Law & Order: Criminal Intent has been adapted for French and Russian television under the respective titles Paris enquêtes criminelles and Закон и порядок. Преступный умысел, and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit has also had a Russian version, Закон и Порядок: Отдел Оперативных Расследований.


Seasonal rankings (based on average total viewers per episode) of Law & Order on NBC.

Note: Each U.S. network television season starts in late September and ends in late May, which coincides with the completion of May sweeps. Season 18 started in January and was held back as a mid-season replacement when NBC announced their 2007–08 schedule in May 2007. The 20th season premiere was on Friday, September 25, 2009 at 8:00 pm (ET) and 7:00 pm (CT) on NBC.

Season Premiere Finale Episodes Timeslot Rank Viewers
(in millions)
1 1990–91 September 13, 1990 June 9, 1991 22 Tuesday 10:00 pm #46 12.0[citation needed]
2 1991–92 September 17, 1991 May 14, 1992 22 #43 12.3[citation needed]
3 1992–93 September 23, 1992 May 19, 1993 22 Wednesday 10:00 pm #49 10.5[citation needed]
4 1993–94 September 15, 1993 May 25, 1994 22 #38[79] 11.9[79]
5 1994–95 September 21, 1994 May 24, 1995 23 #27[80] 11.6[80]
6 1995–96 September 20, 1995 May 22, 1996 23 #24[81] 10.9[81]
7 1996–97 September 18, 1996 May 21, 1997 23 #27[82] 10.5[82]
8 1997–98 September 24, 1997 May 20, 1998 24 #24[83] 14.1[83]
9 1998–99 September 23, 1998 May 26, 1999 24 #20[84] 13.8[84]
10 1999–00 September 22, 1999 May 24, 2000 24 #13[85] 16.3[85]
11 2000–01 October 18, 2000 May 23, 2001 24 #11[86] 17.7[86]
12 2001–02 September 26, 2001 May 22, 2002 24 #7[87] 18.7[87]
13 2002–03 October 2, 2002 May 21, 2003 24 #10[88] 17.3[88]
14 2003–04 September 24, 2003 May 19, 2004 24 #14[89] 15.9[89]
15 2004–05 September 22, 2004 May 18, 2005 24 #25[90] 13.0[90]
16 2005–06 September 21, 2005 May 17, 2006 22 #35[91] 11.2[91]
17 2006–07 September 22, 2006 May 18, 2007 22 Friday 10:00 pm #54[92] 9.4[92]
18 2007–08 January 2, 2008 May 21, 2008 18 Wednesday 10:00 pm #38[93] 10.7[93]
19 2008–09 November 5, 2008 June 3, 2009 22 #62[94] 8.2[94]
20 2009–10 September 25, 2009 May 24, 2010 23 Friday 8:00 pm
Monday 10:00 pm
#60[95] 7.2[95]

Awards and honors[]

Main article: List of awards and nominations received by Law & Order

Law & Order has been nominated for numerous awards in the television industry over the span of its run. Among its wins are the 1997 Emmy Award for Outstanding Drama Series, Screen Actors Guild Awards for Outstanding Male Actor in a Drama Series for Sam Waterston in 1999 and Jerry Orbach in 2005 (awarded after his death), and numerous Edgar Awards for Best Episode in a Television Series Teleplay.

In 2002, Law & Order was ranked No. 24 on TV Guide's 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time.[96] The show also placed No. 27 on Entertainment WeeklyTemplate:'s "New TV Classics" list.[97]

In 2013, TV Guide ranked Law & Order #14 on their list of the 60 Greatest Shows of All Time.[98]

DVD releases[]

Universal Studios Home Entertainment has released fourteen seasons on DVD in Region 1, along with the complete series. Law & Order: The Complete Series boxed set features all 20 seasons. Each season is individually packaged (in tray-stack style), with all new cover-art (including new cover art for the seasons that have been released). The set also includes a 50-page full-color book titled "The Episode Guide". Along with episode names and synopsis, there is trivia, facts about the making of the show, liner notes, and over 80 full-color photos. In Region 2, Universal Playback has released the first seven seasons on DVD in the UK. In Region 4, Universal Pictures has released the first eight seasons on DVD in Australia and New Zealand. also in Region 4, seasons 9, 10, 11, 12, 13 & 14 are now available on DVD in Australia and New Zealand.

Title Ep# Release dates
Region 1 Region 2 Region 4
The 1st Year 22 October 15, 2002/June 4, 2013 (slimline set) June 16, 2003 April 2, 2003/August 31, 2011 (slimline set)
The 2nd Year 22 May 4, 2003/June 3, 2014 (slimline set) February 28, 2005 August 31, 2011
The 3rd Year 22 May 24, 2004/June 3, 2014 (slimline set) November 21, 2005 August 31, 2011
The 4th Year 22 December 6, 2005/June 3, 2014 (slimline set) July 17, 2006 August 31, 2011
The 5th Year 23 April 3, 2007/June 3, 2014 (slimline set) July 23, 2007 August 31, 2011
The 6th Year 23 December 2, 2008/May 26, 2015 (slimline set) February 16, 2009 August 31, 2011
The 7th Year 23 January 19, 2010/May 26, 2015 (slimline set) April 12, 2010 August 31, 2011
The 8th Year 24 December 7, 2010/May 26, 2015 (slimline set) August 31, 2011
The 9th Year 24 December 6, 2011 (slimline set) August 3, 2016
The 10th Year 24 February 28, 2012 (slimline set) August 3, 2016
The 11th Year 24 November 6, 2012 (slimline set) August 3, 2016
The 12th Year 24 February 26, 2013 (slimline set) October 5, 2016
The 13th Year 24 November 5, 2013 (slimline set) October 5, 2016
The 14th Year 24 September 14, 2004/February 25, 2014 (slimline set) October 5, 2016
The 15th Year 24 November 4, 2014 (slimline set) March 2, 2017
The 16th Year 22 November 4, 2014 (slimline set) March 2, 2017
The 17th Year 22 November 4, 2014 (slimline set) March 2, 2017
The 18th Year 18 May 5, 2015 (slimline set)
The 19th Year 22 May 5, 2015 (slimline set)
The 20th Year 23 May 5, 2015 (slimline set)
The Complete Series 456 November 8, 2011 (box set)

See also[]

  • List of police television dramas



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  • Courrier, Kevin; Green, Susan (November 20, 1999). Law & Order: The Unofficial Companion (2nd ed.). Los Angeles: Renaissance Books. ISBN 1-58063-108-8.
  • Green, Susan; Dawn, Randee (September 1, 2009). Law & Order: Special Victims Unit: The Unofficial Companion. Dallas: BenBella Books. ISBN 1-933771-88-7.

External links[]

Template:Law & Order Template:Law & Order franchise Template:EmmyAward DramaSeries 1976-2000 Template:Producers Guild of America Award for Best Episodic Drama